Directed By: Spike Lee

Starring: Josh Brolin, Elizabeth Olsen, Sharlto Copley, Samuel L. Jackson, and Michael Imperioli

We're seeing an interesting trend this month at the box office.  Hollywood is in the mood to distribute English-language remakes of successful foreign films.  Last weekend, Ken Scott gave us an Americanized version of his Canadian comedy Starbuck with Delivery Man.  It's safe to say that this flick was horrendous.  Now, this Thanksgiving week, we have a much bolder remake of a foreign film.  Spike Lee has decided to tackle reimagining Park Chan-wook's 2003 thriller Oldboy.  The original Starbuck was decent at best, but Chan-wook’s Oldboy, on the other hand, is the gold standard of modern thrillers that many know and love.  While Spike Lee is certainly a great director and has a talented cast, this is one movie with which he never should have tinkered.

It's 1993.  Advertising executive Joe Doucett (Josh Brolin) has a drinking problem.  Frequently putting his work and the nearest liquor bottle above his family, an inebriated Joe misses his daughter Mia's 3rd birthday party.  On that fateful night, he is taken captive.  He awakens at a motel-like facility naked and locked away in a room.  They serve him dumplings from some Chinese restaurant and a bottle of vodka.  With no human contact and only a television to keep him company, Joe gets a taste of his new life routine, one that will persist for the next 20 years.  Along the way, he begins writing letters to his daughter Mia, tunneling an escape path, and training for combat. Joe also sobers up and confronts his alcoholism.  During this time, his ex-wife is murdered.

After twenty years in isolated confinement, Joe is released back into the world.  He does see a mysterious woman watching him from a distance when he awakens to his freedom.  After unsuccessfully chasing her down, he finds a homeless man carrying her bright yellow umbrella.  Ready to beat some answers out of this man standing in line at a mobile health clinic, a girl named Marie (Elizabeth Olsen) stops Joe from doing any harm and gives him a card with her number in case he needs any help.  Fixated on finding Mia and taking revenge upon his captor, Joe goes to the only person in town who would remember him, his longtime friend and bartender Chucky (Michael Imperioli).  Malnourished and exhausted, Joe collapses at Chucky's place, and his old friend calls the only person who has any connection to Joe — Marie, the girl whose card he has. While tending to the man, she reads his bag of letters for Mia.  Marie learns of Joe's confinement and volunteers to help him find his daughter and the answers to the questions burning in his mind.

When remaking a film like Oldboy, the bar for success is substantially higher.  The reasons for which Spike Lee's reinterpretation of Oldboy falls far below this bar are many.  First and foremost, Lee doesn't build any sense of curiosity.  This is because he doesn't focus on the fundamental question of why Joe was released.  He doesn't bake this question into the interactions between Josh Brolin's Joe Doucett and Sharlto Copley's Adrian Pryce.  There's no mention of this question until the big cinematic revelation during the movie’s climax.  Because of this, the film unfolds more like a basic revenge thriller rather than something of a higher caliber.  There's no reason for the average moviegoer to anticipate that anything more is happening.

Another reason this version of Oldboy falls flat is the writing.  Having seen the original, there are quite a few gaping holes in the plot.  I understand that screenwriter Mark Protosevich wants to take some creative license and put his own spin on the story, but he shouldn't do this at the expense of the plot.  In restructuring the film to his own liking, he removes certain aspects of the original storyline such as hypnosis that help explain key parts of the plot.  It leaves moviegoers wondering how the pieces of this complicated thriller all fit together coherently and how such a dastardly plot is effectively executed.  It doesn't help that the ending isn't terribly satisfying either.

Finally, the cast doesn't bring the furious intensity to the screen to make this film the unsettling cinematic experience that it should be.  For his part as Joe Doucett, Josh Brolin doesn't bring the same boundless rage and violent passion to the screen as Choi Min-sik did a decade ago.  As his romantic interest Marie, Elizabeth Olsen gives a solid performance, but she doesn't necessarily have great chemistry with Brolin on screen.  For his part as our main antagonist Adrian Pryce, Sharlto Copley is a real letdown.  After such an enjoyable, personable performance as the villain in Elysium a few months ago, I expected anything but the cold fish we get on screen.  There's nothing interesting about his character.

Spike Lee's interpretation of Oldboy just doesn't live up to what it could have been.  There are no ants crawling all over our lead.  There's no dining on live squid.  There's no breaking point for our protagonist where he just goes completely bonkers.  It's a real shame because this could have been a dark horse this awards season if done right.  Spike Lee's Oldboy gets a 0.09% rating.  Like our lead alcoholic Joe Doucett, have a vodka tonic with this one.